Newsday’s David Lennon is curious how Kris Benson proved to be so expendable.

The Mets had targeted Julio in their ongoing efforts to rebuild the bullpen, and Minaya described Maine, a 24-year-old righthander, as a potential candidate for the back end of the rotation. But why Minaya was so intent on moving Benson still is a bit of a mystery.

While Minaya did jettison the $15 million that Benson is due over the next two years, the move left a considerable hole in the rotation. Aaron Heilman, who had asked the Mets to trade him if he wasn’t going to be a starter, appears to be the front.runner to fill Benson’s vacated slot, and Minaya says there are other suitable candidates.

In addition to Maine, who was 4-3 with a 6.30 ERA for the Orioles last year, Minaya listed the newly acquired Yusaku Iriki, the mostly forgotten Alay Soler and the promising Brian Bannister as potential starters. The three have zero innings of major league experience, but Minaya insists he is comfortable with that crew heading to Port St. Lucie.

“We have numbers,” Minaya said. “Do we need to improve our quality? We’ll make that evaluation when we get to spring training, when we see how some of these guys pitch.”

At least one CSTB reader has opined that the savings on Benson’s salary makes taking a shot at Barry Zito a little more likely, but he didn’t specify if such an effort would be happening before next season’s trade deadline or at the end of the 2006 season.

I’m not sure how I feel about this Jeff Weaver FHM cover, but by the time I get to the library all the pages are stuck together, anyway.